12 December 2006

We Want Peace Where We Live

To comemorate the National Weekend Against Violence Against Women, the University sponsored an art exhibit with the theme of domestic violence and peace in Colombia. I was especially drawn to this collection of works done by school children, which speak to the Colombian situation from the perspective of the most innocent victims. I also love the optimism and wisdom the children display.

To see more photos of the art, check out my Flickr account.

We Want Peace

What is Violence to Me? Violence is what the Guerrilla Do With Us.

It's Never Too Late to Begin Again

Abandonded House! For the Violence Where We Live. We Want Peace!

03 December 2006


In the immortal words of Shakira, estoy aquí (I'm here).

I arrived back in Cincinnati yesterday after an exhausting red-eye flight, an unexpected delay in New York, and a few days of teary good-byes in Barranquilla.

It's going to take a while before I figure out how to live here in the States in a way that honors the experience I just lived in Colombia. In the meantime, I'm baking cookies and taking hot showers, shivering in the cold, and arranging reunions with friends. I'm also trying to remember that all of the folks I encounter in these parts speak english, so my automatic "gracias," "permiso," and "chao" don't make much sense. How sad to lose the opportunity to speak spanish every day...

As for the future of this blog, I'm not sure what'll happen. In the next few days I'll be writing at least two more posts about my final week in Colombia, so stay tuned. After this, you can probably expect this site to go dormant for a while. In February or March, I hope to begin my next big adventure, ideally working with immigrants on the U.S./Mexico border, and I'll decide then whether to carry on as a blogger.

Thanks for following my stories and for listening to the voices of Colombians creating and living new peaceful realities. I've loved having this space to share and to think, to record three amazing months.

26 November 2006


Last weekend in Columbus, Georgia, tens of thousands of protestors gathered outside of the gates of Ft. Benning to protest the continued U.S. involvement in contemporary Latin American political violence. Housed at Ft. Benning, the Western Hemisphere Institution for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC; formerly the SOA – School of the Americas) offers military training for soldiers and commanders from armies throughout Central and South America. Lamentably (and outrageously), many of these soldiers trained at the SOA have been linked to massacres, violence, state-funded terrorism, and human rights abuses (visit the School of the Americas Watch for news and more information). Of all Latin American countries, Colombia currently sends the most delegates to the school.

For three years in a row, I drove the 15 hours between Indiana and Southern Georgia to join the masses of protestors at Ft. Benning participating in the weekend-long sessions of workshops, protest, and, most significantly, the symbolic funeral procession during which the hundreds of names of citizens assassinated by SOA graduates are read aloud. The weekend is always meaningful, bringing together nuns and students and activists and Latin American guests to give voice to our brothers and sisters who have been victims of the United States’ hemispheric control.

Earlier this year, knowing I was going to be in Colombia during the SOA protest, I was slightly bummed to miss out on the power of the weekend. It was fortuitous, therefore, and rather poetic, that I was invited by the Barranquilla community to travel 15 hours by bus to the town of Apartadó in the Urabá region of Colombia last weekend. Apartadó is a city surrounded by some of the richest land in the country and serves as a strategic site for the distribution of Urabá’s bananas, livestock, hardwood, and other resources.

Less than twenty kilometers from Apartadó, over the mountains, lies the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, perhaps the most well-known Colombian city within the world of international peace activism. Members of the Peace Community have committed themselves to a creative response to the ongoing armed conflict in Colombia by declaring their land a neutral, no-weapon, peace zone.

Residents of the San José area participate in workshops about the philosophy of the Peace Community and commit to upholding the following principles:
Each community member freely and voluntarily makes the decision to assume the position of neutrality as a form of resistance to the war, and to abide by the following norms:
* To participate in community work efforts
* To say NO to injustice and impunity
* To not participate directly nor indirectly in the war
* To not carry weapons
* To not manipulate nor give information to any of the parties in the conflict.
Moreover, we commit ourselves to the search for a peaceful and negotiated solution to the conflicts in our country.
In a country in which the guerrilla, paramilitary, and military vie for social control through tactics of intimidation, disappearances, kidnappings, and massacres, San José de Apartadó has become a model for other communities attempting to reclaim and redefine their lands and their lives. Unfortunately, because this neutral stance threatens the powerful armed groups, the Peace Community continues to experience horrific oppression, including a massacre as recently as 2005.

As the names of these massacre victims were read aloud in Ft. Benning, Georgia last Sunday by protestors and mourners outside of the School of the Americas, it felt only fitting that I found myself in Apartadó, just kilometers away from the Peace Community, thinking and learning about the brave and innovative (and yet completely simple) philosophy of Peace adopted by Colombian citizens seeking to re-shape civil war and resist the cultural of violence.

24 November 2006

Dando Gracias

When we went around the circle sharing our moments of thanksgiving last night, one Colombian woman spoke of the meal, of being welcomed into our lives, and of the great value the accompaniment program. She described a Colombian-U.S. Thanksgiving dinner as representative of the wider benefits of our work here together, in which we create a space for our communities to truly be together cross-culturally, breaking down barriers, enjoying, and learning from each other.


Thank you. Thank you to the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and the accompaniment program. Gracias a la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia. Thanks to my family and friends who have supported me and kept me company from afar during this amazing experience. Les doy gracias a mis amigos y amigas en Barranquilla – ustedes me han tocado mi corazón y me han acompañado en cada momento. Thank you to my fellow accompaniers – Christine, Amy, Traci, Billie, Shannan, Paula, and John – for sharing this time with me. Gracias a Jaime y Tito y Señor Antonio por invitarme ser parte de su lucha por justicia y tierra. Thanks to the Quakers, especially Bloomington Friends, who have never been far from my mind during this time of great transformation. Thank you to everyone near and far for reinforcing my belief in peace and hope and community and interdependence.

Gracias a la vida.

22 November 2006

Mo' money, mo' money

Billie and I found this 10,000 Peso note this morning in her wallet. It says esperanza (hope), and adds another layer to the currency-as-political-discourse theme of the past few weeks.

21 November 2006

La Gran Ironía

I like to cook. I enjoy the creative process of sautéing and inventing, eating leftovers, serving meals for friends, and feeding myself well. After almost three months with only a microwave and fridge, I’ve been missing more and more my kitchen in Bloomington.

Luckily, Billie is here. This is lucky for two reasons:
1. She’s a cook, too, so we’ve been commiserating and expanding our repertoire of meals.
2. She’s an explorer and has been peeking into all areas of Colombian life over the past few weeks.

In her explorations, Billie found an electric hotplate for sale at the department store around the corner, hidden far away from the normal kitchenware section where I’ve searched before. After fantasizing for a full day about boiling water (!) and grilled cheese sandwiches (!!), we took action, and within 24 hours the U.S. coordinators of the accompaniment program had generously agreed to subsidize an upgrade of the accompanier kitchen.

Last week, with great enthusiasm, we embarked on a shopping spree (with the help of Shannan), all the while fantasizing about the inaugural meal. We brought home the hotplate, a few pots and pans, dish towels, a cutlery set, some plastic containers, and enough fresh vegetables to stuff ourselves for a day or two.

What we didn’t plan was for the electricity to blow out the minute we stepped back onto campus. Or for it to stay out all night. Instead of preparing the fantasy meal, we wound up eating potato chips, bananas, and ice cream on the balcony with some friends. While a far cry from the pasta with homemade sauce we had planned, the evening did fulfill one of the goals we had for the new kitchen – it gave us an opportunity to offer hospitality and sustenance to our Colombian friends, to return their generosity toward us.

We traveled all weekend (and ate more comida típica than I ever want to see again) but tonight, we feast!



It was early in the morning and I was dozing on and off during the long bus ride. I looked out the window and had this dream-like conversation with myself:

- Hey, there's a donkey by the side of the road.


- Oh right. That's normal.

16 November 2006

Señorita, feel the conga, let me see you move like you come from Colombia

I'm just waking up from an amazing night in Barranquilla. The hometown sweetheart, Shakira, gave her first local concert in over three years, joining other Colombian musicians in a benefit for the building of a new school (In return, the city unveiled a new statue of Shakira next to the stadium. They LOVE her here.)

The Barranquilla fútbol stadium holds about 70,000 fans and last night it was full. To get in to the concert, we stood for three hours (!) in a line zig-zagging through the surrounding park, eating arepas rellenas* and people-watching while we waited.

This was a night to be proud to be Colombian. The opening bands played cumbia and vallenato, the fans were decked out in their "100% Colombiano" t-shirts and waving yellow, blue, and red flags, and every other song gave a shout-out to local cities, customs, and people.
Mira, en Barranquilla se baila así, say it!
Mira, en Barranquilla se baila así
-Shakira, "My Hips Don't Lie"
With the buzz of the microphones, the blasting of the speakers, and the shouting of the fans, I couldn't understand the music lyrics very well, so I used the opportunity to watch the crowd, feel the energy, and reflect on what it has meant to me to be here in Colombia, what it means to be leaving soon. I found myself full of the embracing love for this land and these people, grateful to have found a community and a model for life that feeds my soul, knowing that I've been radically transformed in ways I can't imagine or recognize yet. I also felt quite sad, thinking about walking away from a place and an experience that has become so deeply and beautifully engrained in my daily life.

It's a mixed blessing, the end of an experience. I am so lucky to have these final moments to reflect on these months, to savor the sights and sounds, to love on my friends, to sort through what it has meant to watch and learn. On the other hand, every conversation, concert, fried plantain chip, and taxi ride through the city seems almost too poignant to handle when viewed through the lens of saying goodbye to Barranquilla.


Cold Spell

We've had several big rainstorms in Barranquilla over the past few days and the stifling heat I've become accustomed to seems to be taking a break. Yesterday I was actually slightly cold all day, wrapped up in socks and a long-sleeve shirt.

It was 75°F.

I'm stepping off a plane into the harshness of a Midwestern U.S. winter in just a few short weeks. This does not bode well for me.